The choice is usually made for you, depending on which service you have bought into. If you're invested in Google's music and movie services, then you are inevitably going to veer towards Chromecast.
If your life is iOS based, Apple TV will no doubt be for you and if you are in bed with Amazon you have two choices: the full-fat Amazon Fire TV or the Amazon Fire TV Stick, a device so small and pocket-friendly you'll be constantly wondering what the catch is (check out our guide to all the best media streamers for more).
This model – which you may well want to pick up on Amazon Prime Day 2019 – is the cheaper alternative to the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, without the 4K. If you're on a smaller television, you can skip the 4K and save yourself some money.
The Stick is no slouch, with decent specs; quad-core processor, 8GB of storage, 1GB of memeory and latest gen 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
And it's worth emphasising that the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a tiny device. It's the size of a thick USB stick and will plug into any HDMI port. So far so slick but there is a small issue – the stick does need to be powered, so you have to attach a plug to it.
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It's not a major issue but it does mean that you will want to plug the device into a HDMI slot that's situated on the back of your television. Otherwise you'll have an errant lead hanging out the side of your TV (there is an HDMI extender lead included, however).
Thankfully, having the dongle hidden isn't an issue when it comes to the remote control – everything is handled via Bluetooth so you don't need line of sight for it to work.
Alexa on the Amazon Fire TV Stick
Now you can search for shows and movies, watch shows and movies and open apps and players like BBC iPlayer or Plex. However, while Amazon and Netflix content can be searched for and launched via the results, a lot of other apps require you to open them first.
Always wanted to be able to say "put Breaking Bad on my TV" and have it happen, as if by magic? That shouldn't be surprising; after all, we often find with Amazon Echo that Alexa is able to understand what song or album we want, so why not movies?
Alexa on the Fire TV stick also enables you to rewind and fast forward shows and movies.
We found the process of doing that more than a little annoying when you have a remote in your hand, but finding shows and movies was a decent experience. Having said that, it is quite good for fast forwarding through the ads as you can simply say "fast forward three minutes" and the ad break will be gone.
You can use Alexa to skip to the next episode, but you can't go back or navigate to a particular episode, which is a shame.
One thing that might be good in the future is for Alexa devices to work together, so if you've gone into the kitchen where your Echo is, you can still say "pause my movie" and it will understand what you mean. For now though, Alexa devices work pretty independently (things like alarms are only available on the Echo or Echo Dot you set them on, for example).
Alexa isn't just for scouring for content, either. Most of Echo's capabilities and 'Skills' (third-party apps) are now accessible via the Fire TV Stick, with the likes of weather and sports scores gaining a visual element. Alexa is pretty darn comprehensive these days, so you can say "open Just Eat and ask for my last order" or "dim my lights" at will, for example.
Amazon Fire TV Stick setup
Once the Amazon Fire TV Stick is plugged in, you will get a prompt to add in your Wi-Fi password. Obviously there's no Ethernet connection, so fingers crossed your Wi-Fi is steady enough.
When you are set up on to your network you can spend the next five or so minutes watching the animated video that guides you through the install process. Or you could do what we did and skip it, dive in at the deep end and hope that you know what you are doing.
Fire up the Fire TV Stick and you're presented with myriad options. You have to sign into your Amazon account – if you don't have one, then you shouldn't really be reading this review – and you should also really have Amazon Prime.
It's not essential to using the Fire TV Stick but it's like buying a hybrid car and only ever using the electricity part of it – there's more power there so why not use it?
Amazon Prime will set you back £79 of course, but you do get unlimited one-day delivery for this and access to Amazon Prime Instant Video, the service that's a rival to Netflix. As you would expect, it works really well through the Fire TV Stick.
Prime content is consistently at the front of the user interface, movie and TV content is neatly split, and you can deep search through genres.
Amazon Fire TV stick apps
Away from Amazon Prime content there's a great selection available on Fire TV devices nowadays – check out this Fire TV apps and games directory.
However, there is a bit of a miss as there's no Now TV support. There aren't many streaming devices that Now TV doesn't support, but Amazon streamers are some of them.
You can add over 40 premium channels such as Discovery and Eurosport Player – all are available with individual subscriptions so you only pay for the channels you want.
One nice touch is that you can pick up shows where you left off when travelling: just plug the Fire TV Stick into a TV's HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi and continue watching.
The other strands of Amazon Fire TV are music and gaming. Anything you have bought through Amazon will come up in the music section of the service, and you can also stream from Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Deezer, Vevo and various radio apps. Oh, and any stored Amazon Prime Photos will also appear.
Gaming remains under-cooked. The stick is powerful enough to be a micro console but the games available are essentially mobile apps. So this isn't a device to rival the PS4 – you can buy an additional controller and pretend that it is, but we wouldn't really recommend it.
If you are a Prime member, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a superb device that elevates the Prime service and will be everything you want in a streaming stick.
If you aren't, then there's still a lot to like but all of the Prime business will constantly get in the way of you trying to load iPlayer.
Alexa is a great addition to the Fire TV stick and, while the lack of 4K will be a barrier to some, there's little argument – the Fire TV Stick has a strong case to be called the best-all round streaming device available today. It's available for a great price, too.
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